In 2003, Journal A published an original article. In 2006, the editor received a complaint of plagiarism relating to a case report published by Journal B in 2000.
The introduction of both articles had one identical paragraph and some paragraphs in the discussion were similar.
The article published by Journal A did not reference Journal B, despite: (a) being easy to find on a simple literature search; (b) having similar paragraphs; and (c) being on the same rather unique topic.
Journal A does not see this as an issue of scientific fraud but is concerned as to whether there is copyright infringement and about the publishing ethics involved. They would value COPE’s opinion on how best to handle this issue.
The committee did not discuss this case due to time limits, but the COPE chairman offered this personal advice.
COPE views plagiarism very seriously. Given that there seems to be only extracts involved, the suspicion must be that the author has "cut and pasted" material without attribution. The editor is advised to write to the author pointing out that to appropriate the words of others without making it clear that they are a quotation, represents intellectual theft. Moreover, it might also be breach of copyright. If the author is a young researcher or his or her first language is not English, then a gentle warning and advice on how to cite (ie, quotation marks and/or reference to the original article) should suffice. Of a senior or experienced researcher, some COPE members take the view that the author’s institution should be informed and that the second journal should publish a corrigendum.
As to copyright, this is rarely enforced so it need not be an issue in this case.
The editor contacted the author in question and notified him about the complaint and of the journal’s conclusions. The author has responded in a satisfactory way and the journal is considering whether or not to take any further action.
The editor contacted the author who plagiarised the article and the author responded. The author said that he was not personally aware of the previous article and of the plagiarism in the two paragraphs, but being the first author, he took full responsibility for it. He agreed that the previous article should have been referenced by them and asked to convey his apologies to the author of the previous article. Our editor-in-chief is now dealing with this matter. He will probably publish the letter or an apology and he is considering writing an editorial on good publication practices.
Update (May 2007)
The journal has drafted an editorial on this matter, which has been approved by the publisher and so should appear in the next available issue of the journal. The editor is considering whether or not to publish the letters of complaints that have been received, the journals correspondence to the “offending” author and his response. This is being discussed with the publisher in terms of legal implication. The editor considers the case now closed.